Assisted Reproductive Technologies

Questions for Jodi Panayotov, “In Vitro Fertility Goddess”

Part Two: Having It All, Happy Endings, and the Infertile Community
June 1, 2008

Part Two of my interview with Jodi Panayotov. For Part One, click here.

You talk about the “having-it-all” myth, the idea that women can combine a successful career with a family. Do you wish you had done things differently and pursued your career less determinedly? Do you think women should be encouraged to have children earlier?

You know, I have had a teeny bit of regret there. After Nina was born, I had a miscarriage on her first birthday then three failed rounds of IVF and I’ve since had a full hysterectomy so there is no chance of giving her a sibling. But I am so thrilled and blessed to have Nina that I don’t look back and say “What if?” or anything as I realize how lucky I am.

Of course I do think women should be encouraged to have children earlier but I don’t think it’s that simple. There are plenty of women who do try earlier and still have problems and there are so many reasons for others postponing children. For instance, not being able to find a partner who doesn’t dribble and who has evolved beyond Cro Magnon man, or a career structure that requires you to spend your fertile years climbing the corporate ladder if you are ever to reach the heights.

And don’t get me started on the women I know who were in long-term partnerships and the male kept saying, “in a couple of years” to the baby question till all of a sudden the women were in their late thirties with still no commitment. So I think men should be encouraged to start earlier too if that’s the case.

Start looking to K-Fed rather than Rupert Murdoch or Paul McCartney as role models. Well, maybe not K-Fed but more of a functional high-profile male who started early in having a family.

So many books about infertility are written by those who have gone through treatments or adoption and emerged out the other side with a child. Do you think the book would have been published if you weren't successful ?

JP: My agent was adamant that you can’t have a humorous book with a sad ending. But I do know of some Repro Lit with not-so-happy endings. I think both are important as both represent the two sides of the reality of infertility.

How has infertility changed your thinking about motherhood?

JP: As a mother I’m probably more anxious than I’d otherwise have been. I spent so long worrying when I was trying to conceive then I had a troubled pregnancy and I haven’t stop worrying since. It’s become normal to me to worry. If I don’t wake up worried it worries me and I have to find something to be anxious about.

Has infertility changed your views on abortion and stem cell research? I've talked to many infertility patients who were once strongly pro-choice and pro-stem cell research, but now feel much more ambivalent about these issues. Have you seen a similar change in your views?

JP: Definitely. Once you’ve viewed an embryo or blastocyst at close range you have a different perspective on where life begins. Although I still believe in abortion because I think a child should be entitled to the best possible upbringing and clearly there are situations where there would be no chance of this.

Do you still consider yourself part of the infertile community?

JP: Whatever that means, as there are a lot of different groups that make up the “infertile community.” Some may question whether I am as I now have a child, albeit through assisted reproductive techniques. But without a uterus and ovaries I’d say I qualify.

I definitely think the same as I did before I had Nina—I still get infuriated when I hear someone moaning about their pregnancy or how they didn’t want to fall pregnant right away or whatever. Recently I had a go at a shop assistant who was carrying on about her “poor” sister who found she was pregnant for the fourth time.

Restraining myself from saying her sister was clearly stupid if she already had three kids and didn’t know how they got there, I said, “Isn’t it funny how for every woman who doesn’t want to be pregnant there’s another out there who’s trying desperately and can’t fall pregnant?”

She went all red and didn’t know what to say but hopefully I made her think.

What misconceptions do people have about infertility?

JP: Well, one that comes to mind is it’s always the woman who has the problem when almost half of couples can’t conceive due to a problem the male has. Another is that a woman is to blame for her infertility and the most infuriating one for me: If we just learned to relax we wouldn’t be infertile!

What do you think is the most important thing a person can do to help a friend or family member currently undergoing fertility treatment?

JP: Plenty. You can refer to my site and check the article “Tips for Friends and Relatives who Wish to Remain Friends and Relatives.”

posted by Cheryl Miller | 3:30 pm
File As: Assisted Reproductive Technologies, In Vitro Fertilization, Older Mothers/Fathers

Questions for Jodi Panayotov, “In Vitro Fertility Goddess”

Part One: Repro-Lit, Fertility Goddesses, and Survival Techniques
June 1, 2008

Jodi Panayotov, author of "The In Vitro Fertility Goddess"This month’s Conceptions interview subject is Aussie Jodi Panayotov, author of a new infertility memoir, In Vitro Fertility Goddess. (For the first interview, click here.) At age 37, Jodi was dismayed to find that her fertility had “packed up and left home without a forwarding address.” Never one to give up easily, she and her husband, Michel, enlisted a “medical Coalition of the Willing” to help them have a baby. After a two-and-a-half year journey, they had a daughter, Nina, now five years old.

Jodi has been called “Australia’s answer to Bridget Jones,” and her book is an irreverent, edgier take on the new Repro-Lit genre. In the interview, we discuss why IVF is “the new black,” whether women really can “have it all,” and how to talk to your friends and family about infertility.

Jodi also blogs up a storm at her website—take a look! The book is on sale here.

[Interview edited, condensed, and hyperlinked by Cheryl Miller. Part two to follow.]

There has been an explosion of infertility memoirs recently: Peggy Orenstein’s Waiting for Daisy, Beth Kohl’s Embryo Culture, Tertia Albertyn’s So Close, etc. One critic has even given the genre a name: Repro-Lit. Why do you think accounts for the sudden interest in infertility?

JP: Years ago there was almost nothing written about it that wasn’t so dry you needed several jugs of water handy while you read it.

I think the surge is a result of a couple of things—firstly, a pent-up demand from women who have felt terribly isolated in their experience of infertility. As I say in my book, women will so readily talk, ad nauseam, about their reproductive successes but not their reproductive failures.

And of course as more women are postponing childbearing for various reasons, every day there are more of us in stirrups being prodded at the specialist’s office going, “What happened? How the hell did I end up here?” Hence there is more demand for books on this topic.

What is an “in vitro fertility goddess?”

JP: A fertility goddess is the woman who reproduces readily and with ease. I used to find them so annoying. Then the only way I got to join them was with the help of “in vitro.” Hence “In Vitro Fertility Goddess.”

What prompted you to write the book? Who did you imagine as your intended audience?

JP: I didn’t write it with an intended audience in mind. It was based on a diary I was keeping as a sanity clause during the infertile years—the miscarriages, the drugs, the herbs, my mother’s sex tips, IVF, and the troubled pregnancy spent mostly in bed. When I looked back on it I thought there’d be stuff there that many sufferers of infertility would relate to and from feedback I’ve received they have.

However I have found that the response from the ‘fertiles’ who’ve read it has been unexpected and amazing. They’ve said it’s given an insight in an easy-to-read way on what friends and family have gone through and really changed their ideas on what it means to struggle to have a child. And it’s made plenty of them feel more privileged to have had their children easily. And, dare I say, even appreciate their children more.

In the book, you write about the homicidal thoughts you had about pregnant women, your obsession with your basal temperature and bodily signs, your frustration—even anger—with “fertiles.” Were you ever nervous about laying yourself bare like that?

JP: I think when you are writing autobiographically it has to be a risk you are prepared to take if you are being honest about your subject. Otherwise you can disguise it and turn it into fiction but I don’t think it has the same impact or resonance with the reader.

How have people responded to the book? Have any family or friends read it?

JP: My father made sure that all the family read it. Nobody was spared, including a seventy-eight year old uncle and ninety-year old great aunt. Which goes to show that there’s something in it for everyone—you’re never too old to read my book.

Interestingly enough the friends who have been closest to me during the years of struggle to conceive have reacted with utter surprise to see what it was really like for me. They’ve said they had no idea and why didn’t I talk to them? To which I’ve said, “Well it’s a bit hard when somebody calls and asks what you’re up to, to say, ‘Oh I just spent two hours with my hand in my vagina checking my mucus. How about you?’” Of course, now they all know that’s what I was doing and dinner parties have never been the same.

Do you think your daughter Nina will read the book one day? Whose reaction did you worry about the most when writing the book?

JP: It was my mother that I worried about the most, the fact that she would now know that I had sex with my husband and in what positions. As far as Nina goes, I think by the time she decides it’s cool to read mummy’s book I’ll be demented and in a nursing home, being an older mother and all.

Your book is very funny, especially for such a serious subject. Was the experience of infertility only funny in retrospect, or have you always used humor to deal with things?

JP: It is pretty much a survival technique for me, to lampoon anything I find scary. It gives me back a sense of power in situations over which I have no control. You know, I may not beat you but at least I can poke fun at you.

[Part two to follow.]

posted by Cheryl Miller | 3:16 pm
File As: Assisted Reproductive Technologies, In Vitro Fertilization, Conceptions Interviews

Must-Read Posts

May 27, 2008

I'm still recovering from the long holiday weekend, hence the non-existent posting of the last few days. Fortunately, other bloggers were not so lazy. Here are a few must-read posts:

posted by Cheryl Miller | 10:51 am
File As: Bioethics and Medicine, Stem Cell Research, Assisted Reproductive Technologies, In Vitro Fertilization, GLBT Parents

ART in the News: Weekend Round-Up Edition

"Frankenstein Science," Quadruplets, A Gene for Infertility, and More

May 27, 2008

posted by Cheryl Miller | 9:46 am
File As: Bioethics and Medicine, Stem Cell Research, Assisted Reproductive Technologies, In Vitro Fertilization, Embryo, Moral Status of the, Cloning, ART in popular culture, GLBT Parents, Sperm Donation, Third-Party Reproduction

Coming Soon: More Infertility Films on the Way

May 21, 2008

"Forget about the venerable beat-the-clock thriller," says Canadian columnist Michael D. Reid. "Today, the beat-the-biological-clock flick is the thing."

That trend continues next month with Miss Conception, a comedy about the escapades of a 33-year-old woman (Heather Graham) with a family history of early menopause and an unsupportive boyfriend. The reluctantly seductive woman's frantic quest to find a "Mr. Right Now" thrusts her into contact with Internet sperm donors, nightclubbers and a smitten co-worker.
Also coming soon: Jennifer Tilly and Andie McDowell in Inconceivable, Mary McGuckian's satire about "the immaculate deception" facing infertile couples, singles, lesbians and gay men who use "assisted reproductive technology."

The links above are for the movies' IMDB pages; click the posters below visit pages with trailers -- note that Miss Conception has a different name in the U.K.:

Miss Conception poster     Inconceivable movie poster

posted by Cheryl Miller | 4:05 pm
File As: Assisted Reproductive Technologies, ART in popular culture

ART in the News: International Edition

Infertility Awareness Week, the HFEA, and more

May 21, 2008

posted by Cheryl Miller | 3:30 pm
File As: Bioethics and Medicine, Stem Cell Research, Assisted Reproductive Technologies, In Vitro Fertilization, Embryo, Moral Status of the, Cloning, Egg Donation, GLBT Parents, Third-Party Reproduction

The "Advanced Maternal Age" Mom

May 20, 2008

Confirming that the recent "older mothers" craze is not going away, there's now a magazine devoted to the "advanced maternal age" mom, Plum:

Plum magazine coverThe first-ever magazine dedicated to the 35+ childbearing woman, Plum is a unique blend of an informative health journal and an insightful lifestyle magazine.

With topics ranging from birthing plans, prenatal testing, pregnancy myths, and mothering to entertaining, travel, fashion, and culture, Plum gives the 35+ soon-to-be or new mom the know-how and support she needs before, during, and after pregnancy. She will be informed, entertained, and moved as she learns about the best health-care practices, the hottest trends, and the most poignant personal stories. 

(via Laura at 11D)

posted by Cheryl Miller | 10:09 pm
File As: Assisted Reproductive Technologies, ART in popular culture, Older Mothers/Fathers

Dignity Deathmatch, Round Two

May 19, 2008

It's time for round two of the "dignity debate." The latest:

  • BioEdge says Pinker is "no philosopher."
  • Stuart Rennie asks if autonomy is in any "better conceptual shape" than dignity.
  • Noah Millman gives "one cheer for Pinker even if he is being a jerk." (See too the interesting comment thread.)
  • Alan Jacobs has some fun with Pinker's notion that the sciences and the humanities, "like Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort,...are predestined to eternal enmity: one of them must destroy the other."

posted by Cheryl Miller | 8:48 am
File As: Bioethics and Medicine, Assisted Reproductive Technologies

Two More Takes on the Fertility Film

May 19, 2008

Yale blogger Helen Rittelmeyer says the rise of the "fertility film" is "a good thing":

I’m not sure why Quart is unhappy about the move towards seeing mother- and fatherhood as redemptive, given that it moves us away from trying to charge romantic relationships with the burden of making overgrown adolescents man up (which was always a bad bet on our part). Movies are full of men who start out juvenile, sullen, self-absorbed, or humorless, only to fall into relationships with women who offer a promise of salvation. I’m not sure why; confrontation with the responsibilities of fatherhood seems to have more raw valence than “love of a good woman.”

Louise Sloan, single mother by choice and author of Knock Yourself Up, thinks there's plenty funny about being a single mom, but that Baby Mama doesn't get it:

The critiques of Baby Mama find it to be superficial and predictable, lacking fully drawn characters and the kind of emotional depth that takes a funny sketch and makes it a great movie. And that's where I start to lose my sense of humor. Because this material is both hilarious and highly emotional--there was no reason for Baby Mama to be shallow.

I found plenty to laugh about as I encountered exploding semen vials and was twice mistaken for an animal breeder ("I swear, it's always you semen people who get the late deliveries!" one FedEx clerk loudly exclaimed).

posted by Cheryl Miller | 8:27 am
File As: Assisted Reproductive Technologies, ART in popular culture, Single Mothers by Choice

The Fertility Film

May 15, 2008

In Mother Jones, feminist writer Alissa Quart looks at the new spate of pregnancy comedies (Juno, Knocked Up, Then She Found Me, Baby Mama), which she dubs the "Fertility Film." Like me, she finds these movies "conservative at heart":

[T]hese films recast the "pro-choice" narrative of feminists' personal and political past as a different, less politically dangerous sort of pro-choice story—a woman's right to choose from a smorgasbord of late fertility options. Once, in the recent age of "Murphy Brown" having a baby as a single woman was the most rebellious and politically radical thing our heroine could ever do. Now becoming a single mom onscreen makes a film heroine more conventional.

I also found interesting Quart's analysis of the men--"stunted inseminators" all--in these films. Her description fits well with the "sour feminism" James Bowman identifies in Juno, in which men are depicted as perpetual adolescents unable to come to grips with adult responsibilities. For the pregnancy comedy, the truly agonizing question is not whether to keep the baby, but whether to keep the man. As Quart writes:

All of these films end with a love object, a baby that is superior in the eyes of many women than a man would be. In these films, the baby represents eternity and the possibility of absolute devotion. It's a relationship that, unlike romantic love or marriage, female viewers are thought to believe in without sarcasm.

As they say, read the whole thing.

posted by Cheryl Miller | 4:54 pm
File As: Assisted Reproductive Technologies, ART in popular culture

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